Interviews

Ellis Island Medal of Honor 2008 Awarded to Frmr Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO)

NEW YORK, NY – Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, of the Cheyenne Tribe of Oklahoma, was one of 100 people honored with the NECO Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award at this year’s ceremonies on Saturday, May 12, 2008. The award recognizes Campbell as a powerful leader for his many years of distinguished public service to America as well as his unique position as a voice for Indian Country within the halls of Congress.

Campbell has ancestors from both Native America (Northern Cheyenne) and Immigrant America (Portuguese), and his honorable legacy is a merging of these two sometimes divergent realities. As a politician, he embodies a bridge between these two worlds. As a man, he symbolizes a powerful legacy of love and understanding for his country, and for his people.

Like all of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor awardees, Campbell is recognized for his achievements in the mainstream society, but he is also being acknowledged as a representative from Indian country, from Tribal America, and for what he represents to that vast and unique constituency. Senator Campbell has spoken out many times about the dual role he was compelled to play while serving in Congress.

On one hand, he did his job for the constituents of Colorado, those people up elected him to office. On the other hand, as the sole Native American person inside that circle of influence and power on Capitol Hill, Senator Campbell was, and still is, thought of as a voice for Indian Country at large.

Campbell was a U.S. Senator from Colorado from 1993 until 2005 and was for some time the only Native American serving in the U.S. Congress. Campbell was a U.S. Representative from 1987 to 1993, and he was sworn into office as a Senator following his election on November 3, 1992. He was only the third Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in history. Campbell also serves as one of forty four members of the Council of Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe.

Campbell was the first person to address the Senate in full Indian regalia, white beaded buckskin, and full chiefs head dress contrasting against a sea of dark suits. His presence was a statement about the continuation of Native American tribes and their enduring cultural heritage. Campbell was instrumental in the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, DC. At the groundbreaking ceremony for the museum, he said, “No longer will Native American culture be bottled up in collections and hidden from so many people in the world who wish to share them.”

A New Step for NECO, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations

In keeping with their mission of holding up examples of individuals who do achieve the American Dream while maintaining their own cultural identity and heritage, NECO is including tribal America this year with their honoring of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and have stated their intention to continue this new tradition with the honoring of a Native American every year going forward. Cherokee Principle Chief Wilma Mankiller is the only other Native American to have received this honor, in 1997.

Executive Director Rosemarie Taglione stated that NECO intends to “build a bridge of honoring, of understanding, and of healing from communities of immigrant cultures and families to communities of indigenous tribal people living in America today,” starting in 2008 with the honoring of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

Established in 1986 by NECO, the Ellis Island Medals of Honor pay tribute to the ancestry groups that “comprise America’s unique cultural mosaic.” To date, more than 1,000 American citizens have received medals, including former Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist, Muhammad Ali; Rosa Parks, Elie Wiesel, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Her Excellency Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, President of the 61st Session of the UN General Assembly; and Quincy Jones.

Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients are selected each year through a national nomination process. Campbell was nominated by Kurt Luger, executive director of the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association, and New York businessman Bernard “Beau” Lange. Screening committees from NECO’s member organizations select the final nominees, who are then considered by the Board of Directors. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have officially passed resolutions recognizing the Ellis Island Medals of Honor, which rank among this country’s most prestigious awards. Each year, Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients are listed in the Congressional Record, honoring those who have made enduring contributions to our nation and to the world.

NECO’s mission is “to create the world of the future today, by honoring our diverse past, advocating for positive change in the present, and building strong leaders for the future.” The foundation partners with a wide variety of organizations, both national and international. It supports diverse ethnic cultural events, sponsors life-saving surgery for children, assists emergency relief efforts worldwide, and produces educational materials and programs that mentor youth to become the leaders of tomorrow. NECO continues its long-standing commitment to Ellis Island, supporting the ongoing restoration of its educational facilities.

For a full list of the 2008 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Awardees, go to http://www.NECO.org.

Frmr. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell was one of the few featured speakers at the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Awards event in New York City, on Ellis Island on Saturday, May 12, 2008. The evening was a very patriotic event, with all branches of the the military represented in formation, in their dress uniforms. The event paid tribute to all of the awards winners with a salute and a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”

Senator Campbell took this unique opportunity to educate the two thousand attendees, including many of New York’s elite, in a little bit of Indian history:

“As a former Air Force military man from the Korean War, I have to tell you I always have a wonderful feeling of elation and hope and pride when civic functions in America involve so much of our military men and women. Your presence is a constant reminder of how important they are to our freedom. One of my bills that I am most proud of that I passed the United States Senate was the bill that was signed by William Jefferson Clinton that authorized the black POW-MIA flag as a national symbol to be flown five times a year by all federal properties such as Ellis Island.

It was brought to my mind when Louis Zamperini (WWII veteran, Olympian, motivational speaker) came to the podium. It is extremely important that we do not forget their sacrifices.

I am delighted to be here. I might tell you since there are so many military people here tonight, that American Indian involvement in our military is almost patriotism beyond words, contrary to some of the old movies that exploited the Indian Wars of the American West in the 1800’s.

But the fact is, it was warriors of the Iroquois Confederacy who provided George Washington at Valley Forge with blankets and food, snuck them in in the middle of the night. It was American Indians who were with “Black Jack” Pershing when he chased Pancho Villa into Mexico, and with Teddy Roosevelt when he charged up San Juan Hill.

And, who now has not heard of the celebrated Code Talkers of WWII whose own language was the only code never broken by the Axis. So, certainly we have paid our dues. We have the highest volunteer enlistment per capita of any ethnic group in America.

I’m also delighted there are so many of my tribal brothers and sisters in the audience tonight. Some of them have come an awfully long way to help me celebrate and and I really appreciate them being here.

We’re called American Indians, but it’s almost interchangeable with Native Americans now, as you probably know. We even use it in mixed circles, although in our own circles we prefer our own tribal names. But you obviously know how we got that name, because poor Christopher Columbus was totally lost and stumbled upon our shores and thought he was in India, and we’ve had that name-fiver since.

And in a way, there’s sort of a distant connection between Christopher Columbus and myself. Many of you may not know that he was taught to sail by the Portuguese, my mother’s people, in the Azore Islands. And Christopher Columbus’ wife was an Azorean, she was Portuguese.

In 1992, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the 20th descendent on Christopher Columbus, his name is Cristobal Colon, and he is helicopter pilot with the Spanish Navy. We had a chance to compare his ancestry on the Portuguese side with my ancestry on the Portuguese side. We mused that maybe I had a connection to Christopher Columbus, too.

I sometimes get teased a little bit by my Indian relatives who question the wisdom of my Portuguese ancestor’s teaching Christopher Columbus to sail, and on the other side of that coin are people who can’t believe that we sold Long Island for a handful of beads. But we’re all here and we’re all in this whole thing together now, so we certainly must make the best of it, and we do.

My grand dad on my mother’s side stowed away on a ship to get to New York when they broke a rudder and stopped in the Azore Islands. He said the hardest part was living on the three loaves of bread and one gallon of water he brought on board with him for the trip.

But he made it here, got a job, saved some money and sent for his wife and the five kids. My mother was the youngest of those five, and was six years old when we came here. I think he shared in common what I saw last night and tonight among a lot of our recipients…he was of modest means, he believed in working hard, he was raised with a work ethic as so many of our immigrants are. He knew how to share success when he gained success, and above all, he had a dream.

So it’s kind of strange, I suppose, that my mother would grow up, coming to a country where dreams could be realized, and then marrying a man who came from a people whose dreams were literally shattered by that same exodus from other parts of the world. And they were almost as you probably know, if you’ve read our history, American Indians were almost literally an endangered species by the year 1900, but we have come back.

And contrary to many of the stories that are out there now about the success of Indian tribes, I’m sure you’ve read about some of the success of what we call the casino tribes. Believe me, they are in the minority. There are very few of them making what we might call “serious money,” and some of them are in this part of the Unites States, but most American Indians still face a lifestyle of poverty that is literally a third world country.

I heard the very good words of Mr. Butler speaking about all the children of the world who need our help, and I tell you, some of those children are in this country, and they are American Indians. If you go out on what we call hardcore reservations, they still face a seventy-five percent unemployment. Nationwide, if we get to five percent they think it’s some kind of a national calamity. Try seventy five.

We still have over fifty percent our people on some reservations who suffer from diabetes, partly because they have no money to buy food, and so they live on starchy government surplus things we call commodities. Cans with no labels that have been sent to them by the federal government. No fresh fruit, no fresh vegetables, low protein, you can imagine after years and years of that kind of a diet what it does.

Diabetes, of coarse, leads to bad circulation, then to gangrene, then to amputation, then to death. Over thirty percent of our teenage youngsters on some reservations have tried suicide in at one time in their life. Because too many of them feel that they live in a dead end hopeless atmosphere. Some of them we loose, unfortunately.

When I tell people that it is a matter of fact that the federal government spends more money per capita on rapists, killers and child molesters in our federal penitentiaries than we do through the Indian Health Service for our Indian kids, it’s hard to believe. But that’s a known fact. Senator Dorgan (U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee), who now chairs the committee I used to chair, is trying desperately to do something about that issue.

Well, those things are tough, but some of us are trying desperately to make things a little better. And I think we’re doing it as we kind of soldier on, and many of those Indian leaders are in the audience today. We know that if we work hard enough we will make life a little better for our grand kids, than what our grandparents faced in boarding schools, and, in fact, in the face of genocide practices that were done in California and in some of the New England states. That’s where the name “Redskin” came from. As you probably know, it is a name we do not like. It was when people would turn in, during the French and Indian Wars, a bit of black hair or red skin, they would get a bounty.

I don’t know of any other American…even though there were terrible, tragic things that happened to Japanese Americans during WWII, and to Black Americans during the slave days. And so many discriminatory things have happened to Irish Americans, and to many others. But, I don’t know of any other people, in this great nation, who had a bounty put on them. Except us. We did.

Well I am really delighted to be here in the company of so many distinguished people, who have made this great nation greater. But I would hope that they would remember that there are still people from the first Americans who have not shared in the success of our newest Americans. Somewhere along the line I hope we will begin to realize that and rectify it, and become truly one people under God. Thank you.

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An Exclusive Interview with Senator Barack Obama

Barack Obama greets supporters in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Photo by Lise King

Barack Obama greets supporters in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Photo by Lise King

The Native VOICE:

What is your understanding of Indian Country, and what your understanding of tribes in America?

Senator Barack Obama:

Well, obviously I have enormous respect for the traditions and the history of the first people on this continent. And I think it is very important for us to make sure that we understand that there is a government-to-government relationship, that we need to fulfill our treaty obligations, that the United States government has not always fulfilled those treaty obligations – I intend to when I am president. And reflecting that government-to-government relationship, I am going to put a high priority on having a senior policy advisor, cabinet level, in the White House, who can meet with me on a regular basis. And I want to make sure that we’ve got ongoing meetings on an annual basis with tribal leaders so that they can communicate directly on issues ranging from what’s happening in health care in Indian Country to what’s needed in terms of preserving sovereignty, to our dealing with natural resource issues. I think that relationship of respect is what is most important.

TNV:

How would you change the relationship in the way the tribes deal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of the Interior?

Obama:

Well, as I said, I want to make sure that there is a person in the White House who people can contact directly, so that they’re not just working through a bureaucracy. One of the things that I think is very important is to figure out how we can create a Bureau of Indian Affairs that is much more responsive, friendly and focused. Sometimes I think the federal government is a very distant entity, has a lot of rules and regulations, but unfortunately not the budget that’s needed to fulfill some of its missions. What I want to do is spend some time talking to tribal leaders on the ground, find out from them what would make a difference, how can we change things, how can we make sure that we’re more responsive. If we do that, then I’m confident that Indian Country can be a place of prosperity and peace, and a place where the vitality of the cultures is preserved.

TNV:

Your approach seems to be one of going in and saying, How can we fix this? How can we make people’s lives better?

Obama:

Right.

TNV:

What would you do in Indian Country? Do you have a sense of what the real issues are on the ground?

Obama:

Sure. Well, I mean there are a couple of priorities obviously. Indian Health Services is woefully inadequate, and that’s why I have consistently voted to significantly increase, and have sponsored calls to increase, health care dollars for tribal communities. I think it is very important that our education system works for Native children, and that has to be done in consultation with tribal leadership. But what is also true is that young people are going to be able to prosper in an economy that is global. They’re going to need a better education than they’re getting right now. Obviously it’s important to think about new economic development strategies. Gaming has been very important for a lot of tribes, but I think the opportunities, for example, on clean energy, like wind power, harnessing that energy, linking it to a renewed grid that can distribute that energy around the country, making sure that tribes are benefiting from these natural and renewable resources. I think that can be an incredibly powerful tool for economic development. And then obviously there are issues like substance abuse, crime, suicide, that have to do with mental health services, and those have to be provided in a way that is culturally appropriate. I think that unfortunately too often we don’t have enough sensitivity to what is going on in these communities, and we haven’t trained enough people within the communities, to provide the services that are needed.

TNV:

The most important question that tribal leaders and people on the ground want to know is, can you give us some specifics about how you intend to recognize and respect sovereignty of the tribes?

Obama:

I’m a big believer in abiding by past treaties and making sure that we are respecting these tribal governments. And that means that, on a whole host of issues, where there are potential conflicts between tribal decisions and U.S. policy, I think we have to understand that we can’t just run roughshod over those tribal decisions. That’s why I think it’s so important to set up an ongoing liaison within the White House to resolve these issues as they come up, and not allow them to fester, or to be decisions made at a lower level. And I don’t think that we should just have courts resolve many of these issues. I think at some point the executive branch has some responsibility to be proactive, and not passive. Because often times it might take twenty years to resolve some of these issues. And that I think is not sufficient.

TNV:

The question is, as a follow-up, it’s going to take not just executive, but legislative and funding decisions and appropriations – that could be a difficult thing.

Obama:

Well obviously I’m going to have to work with Congress as president. We have co-equal branches of government. I’m not going to be able to dictate my agenda. But what I can do is to be an advocate. And I intend to be an advocate for Indian Country, and for Native American people, who have for too long been forgotten.

TNV:

Would you support the creation of Native American Heritage Day as a way to help educate America?

Obama:

Oh yes, I am a big booster of that, the creation of Native American Heritage Day.

TNV:

Thank you, Senator.

Obama:

You’re welcome, and thank you.

Ward Churchill: AN EXCLUSIVE NATIVE VOICE INTERVIEW

Ward Churchill, agree with him or not, has become an internationally-known symbol of Native American protest against the United States goverament, the “establishment ” and against anyone who would challenge his right to speak freely.

Churchill’s controversial writings and speeches, and subsequent termination from his tenured position as an Ethnic Studies Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, have gotten unprecedented media coverage world-wide.

His very status as American Indian has been challenged, by Native and non-Native alike, yet he persists in current affairs as the number-one most recognized Native American voice in the mainstream media.

Churchill is representing Native America, in some respects, to the greater public and the world, with media coverage literally circling the globe. A quick Google search turns up stories from every major news agency in America, plus coverage on Al-Jazeera, the Chinese newswire, and news programs in New Zealand and India, to name only a few.

The first question a recent visitor to our offices from Germany asked was “What do you think of Ward Churchill?” Partially because of his references to Nazi’s, she said, “He really has people talking about Native Americans and what they went through historically. There is a lot of debate around this guy, even at home (in Germany).”

He is the center of a firestorm of controversy, and many Native people have become frustrated by the attention he has garnered in the name of Indian people. He has certainly been accused of making things harder for Native people in the Rocky Mountain region, as AIM support has given the impression to some that he does stand for Indian people at large.

Ward Churchill’s supporters, including Russell Means and the Denver Chapter of AIM, are fiercely loyal. They stand behind Churchill to support not only the man, but also his messages.

The day after Ward Churchill was fired by the Colorado University Board of Regents, he invited us to come out to his home in Boulder to interview him and talk about the issues. Russell Means was there, and became part of our conversation, which went long into the afternoon and covered some unexpected ground.

We look forward to your comments and feedback, some of which we will print in the upcoming editions of The Native Voice. Please send your emails to: thenativevoice@gmail.com

A Two-Part Interview

The Native Voice: A lot of people know of you from the headlines, but they don’t know you as a person, per se. You’ve become more of a symbol.

Ward Churchill: Sure.

TNV: Your work at the University of Colorado in Boulder has been presented as radical. When you first started working as a professor, as a teacher, were your goals different then, from what they became in recent years, what we see today?

Churchill: No It’s kind of like this interview. It may have been different in a sense that I may have had different points of focus because, if you work enough at a base to try to rectify the Indian-White relations, or how ever you want to frame that, there are almost an infinite number of points of focus that you have to select from, so you can move from one to another to another and basically you’re doing the same thing. It’s just that your framing is going to be different.

The truth of the matter is, I’ve been standing on the same bedrock, the same foundation all my adult life. Whether in the formal academic sense or an activist sense or a combination of the two, which has usually been the case.

TNV: Can you explain where that foundation comes from?

Churchill: In a way, it’s a paraphrase: In ’74 when they convened the International Treaty Council – the meeting, not the organization – what came of that was they gave the pipe to Russ (Russell Means) and he accepted it with a responsibility to take the 1868 Treaty in front of the community of nations to get involved in that particular discourse and to be considered in that way.

From the 1868 Treaty, then, by extension, you’ve got all these other sets of treaty relations between the Feds and indigenous peoples. In the end that translates to global treaty study that was undertaken by Alphonso Martinez during the later part of the 1980’s. That’s how these things hook up, but it was to take what was known to people in a particular context and put it where it belongs, which is in the international discourse because it is an international relations issue.

My thing has always to been take “Indian affairs,” as that term is applied by a federal government, the sets of relations that are involved there and the history of that, and put it into the discourse of the consequence of people.

More broadly, it is that consideration of indigenous people – their relations, their rights, and so forth – as not some esoteric side line field, but as part of the old world flow of the whole. That doesn’t land in a standard university Indian Studies position where Indians are developing knowledge and putting it in these Western forms for their own purposes, for internal education (that’s valid for as far is it goes, and I actually participated in it, but its not my focus).

It’s also not to try to make Indians a part of the greater whole in the sense of being minorities. Indians speak from their own position with the same integrity and right to be heard and considered in connection and comparison with other minority groups as anybody else.

TNV: So, who is your audience? Indians? Non-Indians?

Churchill: I’m always talking to Indians, to White folks, and Africans, Puerto Ricans and everybody else. We’ve got points in common. For one, we’ve got a common oppressor.

TNV: White folks too?

Churchill: A lot of these groups even including some of the White groups, have our different histories. We understand our differences and our commonalities clearly among ourselves. We have a basis for interacting and respect in the real world.

How do you get to that understanding? Well, you don’t do anything without consciousness, okay? Because consciousness is not insular, nor is it homogenous, like stirring cream into coffee.

TNV: So what was the basis of the problem at CU? Why do you think, ultimately, that they built a case against you to fire you?

Churchill: I don’t strive for either of these poles, so there is this tension at CU. But that’s where Indian studies was supposed to fit in the first place. Most people have forgotten this. We’ve got so many damn people trying to be professional according to quote-un quote standards that we were supposed to transcend! Our purpose was to transcend our understanding of Indian studies, to change them, to make them other than what they were through standard education.

TNV: When I was in college taking Native American studies, the first thing the professor said on the first day of class was that “Anything you ever learned in any classroom about Native America was all wrong. For you to be successful in this class past this day with me you have to be able to forget it” and start over to build your knowledge and understanding. I thought it was brilliant.

Churchill: And you’re telling the Indian students, “Well that’s in the past now, can’t you get over it and try looking at it another way?”…

TNV: …No, the professor meant it as a “de-programming” from American public schools…

Churchill: (continuing )…well truth of the matter is they can’t. That’s what’s scary, its not like you give em a pill. But in variable degrees of openness they can unpack a lot of this stuff and they can do it in a hurry if you approach them right.

And maybe that’s what the Creator gave me was an ability to straddle those two things because I can talk to Indian students and other people. I’m consistent with Indian peoples’ understanding, but I can nail these little White buggers right there in their seat and you can almost watch them undergo transformation. It’s like the cartoon of the lightbulb going on its like, “Oh sh*t.” You know, walk em into it. Let them walk themselves into a box of an argument.

And they realize they are in a box and they have to think their way out and it scares them to death because the final product of any course that I ever teach is that you gotta sit down and tell me what was important in the subject matter, and why you thought it was important. Pick anything you want from the whole subject matter. One little point in it or something you connected to from your own experience to the subject matter. But, you gotta explain why that is and then you’re gonna tell me what you’re gonna do with that outside the goddamn classroom in the real world.

It’s traumatic. Nobody ever asked them assign a significance to things. They’re always being told what the significance is, so they memorize, they write in forms, they fill out tests, little bubble circle things, fill in the blank multiple choice. You know, all that sh*t. You’re memorizing information, you’re regurgitating it, you’re never really learning, you forget it soon as you’re out the door, once you got your ticket punched for that school credit…

It propels them to engage, you gotta think your way to a conclusion. They are terrified but ultimately most of them do pretty well

TNV: Do you think that the part of that experience that you have with the students has been the context of the a big, public, state university system that you’re teaching in? For example, different schools have different expectations for their students, how they want them to learn, what they expect them to do with the information, etc. Meaning, a large university system undergraduate college versus a private liberal arts institution?

Churchill: Yeah, and you can still do it in a big school context. But where this does start to break down is with the number of students in the classroom. I’ve taught sections of 200 students, and you can’t really do what I’m talking about with that many students.

That starts to debilitate towards these idiotic instruments where you’re assigning arbitrary scores and you end up with people who are really able to do something with the information, they’ve got a handle on the subject matter, and they get a C because they’re not good at taking tests. And you got people who are total ciphers in terms of moral implications or the ethical implications or so on but they know how to do well taking tests and they are getting A’s. I taught 100-student blocks and I could get closer to what I’m talking about.

TNV: One of the things the media has focused on is how much money you make and how much you have cost CU. It has been reported that you will be paid $96,000 in severance for this upcoming year, and that the court case cost CU $352,000.

Churchill: It takes roughly 25 students at the University of Colorado to pay for a course. Anything beyond that is excess, is profit. So, if I’m teaching a 200 student block then I’m generating three dollars in profit in the institution for every dollar I’m using to deliver the course.

One line on that is the quote that tax payers of the state of Colorado, who anti-up six cents on each dollar of the operating budget for the institution, are paying for me. In fact, they have never paid me a dime, ever.

I’ve been at CU since 1978 in different capacities. In fact, if we were to settle accounts, they could send me a few million dollars that I’ve generated in income for them.

TNV: What about the point that there are two sides to every story, or at least two perspectives.

Churchill: Yeah, that’s what the Nazis said about the Holocaust.

TNV: Well, that’s a whole other discussion.

Churchill: No, it’s not. You said “every story.” That is a story (the Holocaust). No one expects that there will be another side to that story.

TNV: I’m talking about the story of what’s happened to you at CU, that there’s…

Churchill: …That’s just another story. There’s not necessarily another side. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. The other side could be absolutely fraudulent. There is no other side.

TNV: People frame the truth based upon their own perception and perspectives and justifications and agendas. Now you start with a theory of what you were saying…

Churchill: …I’m not accepting that there’s two sides to every story. I’m saying that there can be the truth and there can be bulls*** and that’s the two sides.

TNV: Interpretation can be the whole issue…

Churchill: Then what the Nazi’s said about the Holocaust. How do you interpret their “truth?”

TNV: I don’t know how to answer that question.

Churchill: Nobody does, and there’s no expectation that they should which puts the lie right off the bat to this sort of liberal. “There’s always two sides and they should be treated equitable.” When you treat the Nazis equitably, bring a Jewish survivor from a camp to talk about that experience, it’s expected that will be counterbalanced by the testimonial of one of the guards? Then you can say that, but no one ever says that. So why is it that we gotta have perpetrators’ points of view given equal weight or even superior weight in historical understandings of what happened to Native people or the political understandings or the economical understandings? “Well, there’s always another way of looking at it.” Yeah, there is. There’s the Nazi way of looking at it.

TNV: So you are using the Nazis in comparison to what happened to you at CU? Well, there are justifications, and …

Churchill: Nazis have no justifications.

TNV: Absolutely not. I’m not saying that they are correct, or that you’re accusers are correct, I’m saying that people use different interpretations to justify their positions…

Churchill: …Well what I’m saying is that there’s no expectation that the other story has the integrity to be told.

TNV: I’ve looked at all the reports in the news, and someone likened it to…it’s a bad analogy, but their analogy was that it was worth using whatever means necessary to get you fired, and they compared it to getting a mob gang leader on tax evasion,…

Churchill: …And sometimes they fabricate something.

The way that it looks is that there were lots of little pieces of evidence pulled together to create a comprehensive body of evidence against you, in terms of your scholarly work. And its seemed that they had to take a little piece from here, and a little piece from there, etc., to remove you from your tenure at the University. (Professors who have been tenured have a secure position, for life, or until they retire. It is very difficult to terminate a tenured professor.)

Churchill: They had to create a pretext and an illusion. The pretext is that they were up and concerned about my footnotes (in published writings).

That was not the issue but that’s what they needed to say the issue was in order to do what it was they wanted to do for another reason.

TNV: And you have denied all wrong doing.

Churchill: Absolutely. Yes.

TNV: There is some concern over how your firing creates an imposed threat against being radical or controversial within the university context. There are other professors, who are may or may not agree with your politics and may or may not agree with the way that you would express yourself, who are concerned with what happened to you. They say your firing is a result of people disagreeing with your politics and your platform.

Churchill: Then where are they?

TNV: They’re quoted in the local newspapers, The Boulder Daily Camera and The Rocky Mountain News.

Churchill: I’ll give credit amply due, and to I could name them all, but there’s no need to take up the tape recorder…

TNV: There were only a few willing to speak out against your firing on the record.

Churchill: There are a number who come up to me in the grocery store or at McGuckin’s Hardware or when I’m buying flowers down at Frujos. They confide to really be behind me, but what are they really saying is that “I agree with you, I value what you’re doing and I don’t really value anything about it, so why don’t you carry the weight for us.”

TNV: Why do you think that is? Because they don’t agree with your politics or don’t like your delivery style?

Churchill: Because they’re scared.

TNV: What are they scared of?

Churchill: Because they’re scared of what the implications of this are. The implications are that the academic institution, which is supposed to be a protected environment of true thought and expression, has now had the attention of the Governor to put pressure on the University to take can of removing someone who they thought was, whatever, making too much noise, getting too much press attention, making too many waves, saying things that made them look bad in some way.

For accusing the United States of genocide, for example.

TNV: You’re not the first one to do that.

Churchill: I know.

TNV: Look at Vine Deloria, for example.

Churchill: Well, you know, from their position in a weird way I’ve done that far more effectively than Vine, and Vine’s my mentor. Vine was my uncle, my friend, so I’m not dissing Vine any way at all here. He had a problem with the word “genocide.” He didn’t really understand it and he used it straight up, for example, with regard to Guatemala, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to that here. And he would do cultural critique in the sensibilities of White people, but but he falls into what I call the “opposition trap of the United States.” That there is always this cast of characters that you can name that are the “evil doers.”

TNV: What is the “opposition trap of the United States” and who are these “evil doers”?

Churchill: Okay, so now it’s Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice. Now, which one of them ever picked up a rifle and killed an Iraqi or anybody else for that matter? I mean, Bush is a draft-dodger, Cheney’s a draft-dodger…Cheney said he had other things to do.

It requires somebody besides those evil figure heads to actually do it. And who is that? That s grass roots Americans, and a lot of Indian people. I’m fairly harsh on them, and I’m one of them (who served in the military). You are accountable for your actions.

This is the Nazi defense, saying, “Well, ultimately nobody was responsible but Hitler because it was after all the fuhrer’s state, and the orders ultimately issued from Hitler so he was the ultimate responsible party and everybody else was obeying orders, even highly-placed government officials. And, of course Hitler’s dead so there’s no nobody to blame now. So, let’s revile Bush and Cheney and all of them. Let’s state our opposition. Let’s protest against them even while we benefit from it and do not come to grip with the fact that our next door neighbor and the things we even embrace go into making this process work. In that way we’re not an effective opposition, we’re chasing our tail around and around the same rock.

Like alchemist thinking, if we do the same thing often enough it’s going to come out with a different result, rather than doing what actually would be required, which is to change the nature of the system.

When you get out of ritual forms that are approved by the State, it starts to scary ‘cuz there might be consensus for the state which becomes this immoral state that s slaughtering people all over the world.

By virtue of being a pacifist they might hurt you, that’s why cops carry guns. You know that’s why they employed Delta Force at Seattle when things got unruly (at the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999). What is Delta Force? It’s a surgical elimination unit. It kills people selectively. That’s all it is for. They were prepared to do that to maintain the economic state.

Okay, we’re non-violent. We take a pledge of non-violence, so we guarantee that were gonna be goddamn ineffectual…we’re only purer to you because were risking nothing.

TNV: Who specifically are you talking about?

Churchill: Mass movements. Go over here to the Peace and Justice Center in Boulder.

TNV: So you’re encouraging…you’re saying that peaceful movements, nonviolent movements are ineffectual? What about Ghandi? Nelson Mandela?

Churchill: I’m saying that is true if you constrain the realm of your activity to things that are sanctioned by the state, like free speech zones. You have to have a permit to express yourself, to assemble, to all the rest of this. You know what I’m talking about, we’re gonna do eternal prayer vigils with individuals burning incense, change our diets, build bike paths, everything, anything and everything that the state would approve and the one thing that might be effective is just, “I’m gonna exercise my rights and get the f*ck outta my way, I don’t negotiate my rights, I don’t need your permission to exercise a right.”

My whole point is to de-stabilize your point because your process is criminal. I don’t endorse it. I, in fact, oppose it in meaningful terms am I killing people beyond that set of principles.

TNV: So what are you calling on people to do?

Churchill: Am I making some argument where the only purity is an armed struggle? No. There’s no purity in forms of struggle. There’s no purity in pacifism, there’s no purity in armed struggle, there’s no purity in any point in between. Purity is to figure out how to effectively take that which you find to be morally intolerable – morally lethal, in fact, to primarily but not exclusively brown-skinned people the world over. And, we’ve got plenty of experience of that here that’s called day-to-day life – and change it into something that does not have that effect. The current system sanctions only those things which will not disrupt its current function.

TNV: Well, of course its primary purpose is to thrive in it’s own system…Having this conversation with you it is clear that the sentiment and argument against you goes way deeper than any footnotes in any book. You are challenging “the system” at large.

Churchill: And so is the line of historical interpretation which sets things completely on their heads. Everything that was celebrated, anything that was trumped up in American History, I challenge.

The ICE-T Interview

MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, New York City – Standing in the buffet line at the after-party for the New York premiere of HBO Films’ BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, I realized that Ice-T was right behind me in line with his wife, Coco. I smiled and said, “Of all of the people here tonight, I would like to interview you, Ice-T, because I want to talk to someone who will tell me the truth about what they thought about the film.” He answered. “You know Ice-T is goin’ to tell you the truth!” Exactly.

If there was one person I believed I could count on not to give the usual “I loved it!” premiere post-party gushing review, he was the one. That’s why I took time out to visit with the man who pioneered gangster rap, who broke out of being “a thug” (as he described himself) to craft a life as a successful film and television actor without ever compromising his hard-core politics.

Ice-T has become recognized as a role model for youth everywhere, specifically the ones facing troubles who come from a tough life. He understands the struggles of his own people and has the compassionate heart of someone who can understand the struggles of others. He’s taken actor Adam Beach under his wing to “school him” in the ways of making the power play in Hollywood and dodging the proverbial bullets in the process. If you have any doubts, read on.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Tell me, what was your understanding, did you have any knowledge of the subject matter that was portrayed in the film before tonight?

ICE-T: Nah, I didn’t have any knowledge. I think the actual whole American history of Indians and stuff is really, really a blurred vision. For kids to grow up in America, you know, this isn’t in any history books and you gotta get a little bit as you can. You know, me, trying to be someone whose about rights and things like that, I mean I’ve done a little research, but nah. That’s why I came here tonight. I was like sittin’ in school. I was trying to suck up every little bit of information I could. The question I asked myself is, you know, due to the fact that I’m not Indian, is how close it felt to the reality from an Indian perspective. I don’t know, but it’s refreshing just to see something that kinda, you know, seems like it rings like the truth.

THE NATIVE VOICE: It has it’s difficult moments, but BURY MY HEART was the first time that we’ve ever seem a film anywhere even close to this level of potential worldwide exposure that uncovers the reservation realities, the beginnings of the reservation life. What did you think about the film?

ICE-T: Well to me it’s like, you know, it’s one of those things like when Black people saw “Roots” or “Mississippi Burning” or something like that where you see…it’s almost like you say “White people made this movie?” Its like, wow. But then the reality of the thing is all White people aren’t evil, you know? And there are some people that want the truth out there, you know? So I commend Dick Wolf (Executive Producer of BURY MY HEART, and creator of the Law & Order television franchise). I commend these producers and I always knew Dick Wolf was that kinda guy, I mean, even hiring someone like me to be on his shows. He always cuts against the grain, he does what he wants to do. So I respect that. You know, it’s really refreshing to see something like this. This movie needs to be in the education system, like put into the required viewing of all children.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Let me ask you this: are you aware of the fact that hip-hop and rap is the main culture for so many young people on the reservation? These days, that’s what the kids relate to, are attracted to, and they emulate everything about it – the culture, the attitudes, the body language, the clothes, everything. What do you think about that?

ICE-T: Well you know, hip hop is kind of – especially the music that I had to do with, gangster rap – was initially meant to shock, to say “You know, this is who I am” and it comes out the gate pretty aggressive. But after we got through the door, myself and NWA (Niggas With Attitude), the objective was “Now that we got your attention and we let you know that we crazy, we’re gonna try to guide the kids and teach them a little bit about it, like, this power.” And I think that the Native American kids just like that power and they like that rebellion. The problem right now in the hip hop community is a lot of the music is kinda like, it doesn’t have any direction, so to speak. It’s just like “Party, kick it, have fun, get high” which is kinda like the basis of rock and roll. But we miss that emotion, you know, like Public Enemy, we missed that focus where “Yeah, were gonna party and have good time but were still gonna Fight The Power” so to speak. I think that’s what people like KRS want and myself would like to see back in the music. Real good hip hop has a power of like, rebellion, in it. But it’s rebellion with a focus and that’s what we need.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Can you tie that back to what you saw in the film tonight? Now that you’ve seen a little more of the history, can you see why Indian kids would be attracted to rap, to hip hop?

ICE-T: The film is so deep you can’t even tie the hip hop to it, it’s just deep on a lot of levels.

THE NATIVE VOICE: The modern reality that the kids are dealing with, have come from this reality you saw in the film. They are a product of this history.

ICE-T: I jus’ think they go after anything that’s strong and they lookin’ at Black kids as going through something similar to them, so they kinda look at the ghettos in America as being another form of a reservation. And they see us fightin’ and they’re kinda connected to our battle, but you know, the Native American… If anybody’s got more beef with the United States than Black people it would be Native Americans. To me the heaviest line in the movie was at the end where Chief Red Could said, “The last thing we fear is your gun.” Which is like, “You are so diabolical that that’s the last thing we worry about.” And just looking at Adam Beach (playing Lakota Sioux doctor Charles Eastman) in that dilemma of trying to do so much right and being used as a pawn. And like, when he told his boys that “Yo, you know you’re Christian, you don’t believe in this,” (referring to the Ghost Dance) and the guy goes, “What do we believe in?” And Adam’s face is just like…confusion. In his head he’s doin’ everything right but to them “You’re the White man now.” And I think even the colder shot in the movie is when he had to go back and work for the Senator again (Senator Henry Dawes, architect of The Dawes Act, played by Aidan Quinn). And the Senator, by everything you see on this movie, portrays himself like he’s helping them (Eastman and Indian people at large).

THE NATIVE VOICE: And he really believed he was.

ICE-T: That’s the scary part of the movie! He really, really believed he was helping and it was weird, it was a weird warp. It’s like, “Was the devil really the devil?” And I think in true life, people really believe they’re helpin’, and they’re doing harm, and that’s a cold paradox.

THE NATIVE VOICE: Part of it was that when they took the Indians onto the reservations they became wards of the United States government…

ICE-T: I mean, KRS once said it best, you know: “There will never be justice on stolen land.” The problem with the United States as a whole is there’s so much corruption, there’s so much injustice, there’s so much murder, there’s so much like, deception. And then after this has all been done, let’s lay law over the top and ask for justice and peace. It’s like, let’s hide it and have justice. So now everybody is off balance. It’s kinda like, “Okay. Peace.” But we’re at war. It’s like, you know, its such a hypocritical playing field we’re on. Where is the truth? You know? Where is the truth? And it’s a cold game. It’s a real, real cold game. You know, I learned the streets as a hustler. It’s like they say, “The higher you go up the colder it gets.”

THE NATIVE VOICE: “The higher you go the colder it gets?”

ICE-T: Yeah. And that’s like climbing a mountain. And that’s how power is: the higher up you go, the colder it gets. So, you know. I got so much out of the film. I liked when the soldier sat in front of the Indian and tried to tell him, “Well, you mother f*****s was fightin’ before we got here so we’re just joining the fight. So we’re just like a new tribe, we’re just bigger than you…you guys was fightin’ first and we fought so now we’re in… So how were we wrong?” Interesting concept, you dig? You know? “We just kinda jumped into the fight, but everybody was fightin’.” Deep, man. It’s a deep movie and that’s what’s great about a really great film, it just feeds your head. It wasn’t so one sided that there wasn’t a question.. .you know? But the end result is, you’re sad. The end result is you’re sad. And it’s very rewarding to see something versus just a movie where your gonna laugh or you see a lot of explosions, a lot of action. History, when it’s done well, is great.

THE NATIVE VOICE: So what would you tell… I mean, so many kids look up to you and if you ever come out to the reservation you’ll see that a lot of times it is a ghetto on the’ prairie because of the government policies, because of the impoverishment, because of the lack of hope. Because of all those things, that’s what it is. We have government housing out there just like you have in the projects… it’s just that they build them wherever, in the middle of no where.

ICE-T: The problem with me goin’ on the reservation and really talkin’ is that I really, really am so unfamiliar. Truthfully, since I’ve been with Adam I’ve just been sucking up information from him. But I mean it’s really – to an average person, you know, Black kid, White kid – it might as well be outer space. Because we have no concept. We don’t know about the law…I’m asking him, “Well, what do you do? Do you have a jail? Do you do this?” I mean, I’m asking him and he’s like (gestures), “Whole ‘nother world.” And you know one thing I don’t comment on are things I don’t know about.

THE NATIVE VOICE: But you know about kids and you know about giving hope to kids, so what I’m trying to ask is, what can you give these kids? You know, we have record high suicide rates on the reservations right now.

ICE-T: You know what your kids need? They need somebody to win. You know? That’s why I know a lot of people bettin’ on my guy (Adam Beach). You know, when I first took him under my arm, I was like, “Dude, you’re important.” When I came outta the hood and should have been in Pelicans Bay, and I made it to NBC…? This is a big thing. It’s more than me being like a White actor that got a job, you know, it’s like, who cares? No one’s watching them. But the kids that watch me are like.. .they see if I can do it you know it can happen. Adam’s important, more than people know. And you know, I was like tellin’ him, I was just like, “Man, you gotta stand strong. You gotta stay out of this Hollywood drama. You can’t let ’em take you down. You talk about role model? Look at all the Black people who come out successful, semi-successful, like Shaq. He’s on the team but he don’t own the team, Oprah’s on TV but she don’t own the network, so let’s get it right. Yeah, but how many Native American people are famous?

THE NATIVE VOICE: How many Native American people are even on the team? They aren’t!

ICE-T: Right. So that makes him (Adam) so much more valuable. And I was just telling him, like, you know the main thing is you don’t slip and fall on none of this Hollywood bulls*** ‘cuz they love to make you look stupid. They love to make you f*** up. You got a big, big, big thing. So fortunately, he hooked up with me and I’m a rabble rouser. So I’m trying to school him, but the thing of it is, it’s like his fight is different. I can’t fight his fight. I can maybe give him some inspiration from the fight I fought, but I can’t fight it until I get more information. Actually he and I are working on a screen play, you know, so I have an idea for something to take this to the next level.

THE NATIVE VOICE: You think the world is ready for it, finally?

ICE-T: I think that it’s long overdue. I think that people from my community will really embrace this story. They need to know. I think everybody needs to know. I used to say that the schools in the United States need a course called “Humanity,” where you teach everybody why everyone is important, right? So you take a whole semester where you teach people what Mexican people have done that is great, not just Blacks. You gotta teach. That’s the only way people will respect each other.

You gotta teach everybody why everyone is important, like, “What is a Puerto Rican? Where did they come from? How did they get on that island?” People don’t know so they don’t respect it. So when you eliminate any education of pride, there will be no pride. So you know the kids, man, they just gotta believe.

I mean unfortunately, one guy said it in the movie, he said “White man controls the world.” That happens to be the truth, you know? And you know you’re gonna have to figure out how to insert yourself into this game to achieve what you need to help your people, you know? And that’s just a game, you know what I’m saying? So you can’t work outside. It’s like, even if you set up your own Native American studios, made your own movie, it still gotta get in the theatre! So somebody has to infiltrate the same way they infiltrated in the past. Re-infiltrate that way, and get what you want done. You gotta use the same tactics

THE NATIVE VOICE: It sound like you and Adam are on your way to doing that.

ICE-T: Well you know, I’m sitting with dude…and the beauty of Adam is he’s just very nice. He’s so overwhelmed by his own juice it’s almost like he’s the kind of guy that I’m like, “Dude, you don’t even know who the f*** you are! You’re the mother f*****g man, you know? You’re f*****g Tom Cruise, dude, you don’t even know! But you know, right now you got the power if you make the right move to really make some statements and change some sh**.” So, I’m on it, don’t worry about it. (laughs)

THE NATIVE VOICE: Thank you very much.

Joe Garcia, President of National Congress of American Indians, and Governor of Ohkay Owingeh (Pueblo of San Juan), addresses current leading issues in Indian country

Special to The Native Voice

Read more on http://www.nativevoicemedia.com

Q: What are the most pressing issues that need to be addressed, both at the NCAI Annual Conference and in the coming months?

First and foremost are the social issues, I am most concerned with the number of lives that we are loosing, especially with the younger crowds, and it has to do with suicide and the use of methamphetamine and things of this nature. A lot of us are forming partnerships in Indian country to address this together. The only way we are going to win battles, like this one, is by reinforcing our own partnerships and building a firmer foundation in order to work together. This is so we can take care of our people, and this issue is at the top.

Related to this is the Healthcare Improvement Act. which has not been approved at this point in time, and we need to continue to push that effort.

Also in terms of our youth, in terms of education, we continue to struggle. The No Child Left Behind Act has certainly been the driving force for changes in education, but it is underfunded. Monumental changes in education are expected to be accomplished with measly funds. That’s not how systems work and that’s not reality.

Compare it to business: if you are going to make major changes in business, you’re going to apply money to those changes. And it’s the same thing in Indian country. The truth is that if you are going to incorporate changes you have to have other dollars that will implement the changes, versus using the same programmatic dollars to continue running programs when we are underfunded to begin with. It does not make any sense.

Q: This is an important election year. We are looking potentially major changes in the balance of power on the Hill. What is the most important message regarding getting out the Native Vote?

The first and foremost is the message that Indian people have got to get out and vote. We need to be apprised about what voting means, and not just to the local issues, but more drastically, at the national level. There is a relationship between what happens locally and what happens nationally. But the ultimate is not just leaving it to chance that people are going to get out and vote. The important statistic, and it is wise for every tribe to know this, is that out of your eligible voters, how many are actually registered to vote? If we are sitting there at forty or fifty percent, we’re not doing our job. We’ve got to elevate the number of registered voters. And, we need those voters to get out to the polls and be knowledgeable about who are the appropriate people to support in these elections. If we can get those two things under our belt, then we will have a lot more say so and we will help Indian country by virtue of having that political strength.

I know we’re low in numbers, but there are ways that the smaller numbers can have effect and impact on key elections and elected officials, like senators, congressman, state legislators, governors.

Q: What are the other major national issues that you would like everyone to pay attention to now?

As far as legislation and other political things, the Cobell litigation has kind of gone haywire. I thought we were really close to getting something settled. Unfortunately, in this case, it is not so much that the tribes are not together, it’s more the (Bush) administration that we’re battling at this point. Even Congress is working on our behalf, it is the administration that is hindering a settlement.

The Cobell litigation is tied to trust reform. We’ve really got to be clear on things that we don’t want to compromise – in trust reform. Yes, we want to settle Cobell, but those things should not be compromised. The tribes should have a say so, not individual Indians or in this case, the plaintiffs. I think the important part is that we are working together with the plaintiffs and the attorneys and others to resolve the issue. This is a big positive sign.

As far as the issue on “rights of way” (regarding the Energy Policy Act of 2005) that has been pondered by Indian country, we have concluded that there need to be no changes. The tribes have the final say so on whether they want leasing agreements to go forth or not. No one else should have that responsibility, or in this case, the authority to do that. The tribes, as sovereign nations, should determine that.

Q: On the subject of energy in Indian country, what about alternative energy development for the tribes?

This is a key issue, in fact, because of the energy situation in this country. As you know, a lot of the potential energy development-exists in Indian country, it is important that we be involved in the development of energy and alternatives, and if its green energy, so much the better. But we have to be versed in technology and we ought to be driving whatever we think is appropriate to happen in Indian country.

We ought to be moving forward those initiatives that can be beneficial to us, but, the ultimate idea here is that the tribes then can say, “We are looking out for the best interests of the United States of America, not just my land and my people, but all of the United States.” And I think the tribes can really, really do that and demonstrate to this country what we are all about, and what we can do. And, with the energy bill and the energy titles for Indian country, I think we will be beneficial in that arena. We need to promote this a lot more.

Q: So you are referring to the legislative incentives, the financial incentives, that have been put in place for doing business in Indian country in alternative energy development?

Yes.

Q: Are you aware of the meeting that Senator Tom Daschle hosted with tribes interested in wind energy development?

This is one of those rare opportunities for Indian country to take the lead on something that’s actually going to benefit everyone, the larger population.

I think what we are doing is providing the knowledge building, if you will. Not only of our tribes and tribal leaders, but relaying the information and having a systematic approach to building that knowledge in the general public. For example, we’ve incorporated the media section in NCAI. If we can put out greater efforts and collaborations to get the message out, then we’ll be a lot better off. So I appreciate the opportunity that you are giving here, so keep up the good work.

Q: Thank you. We think it is an important part of the solution, so we are just doing our small part.

Every little bit of potential solution adds to the greater picture. All of the pieces all lead to the comprehensive solution in Indian country.

Q: This is NCAI’s annual meeting. It is by far a most important annual event in Indian country. That being said, would you like to paint the bigger picture of the trend of how the tribes are working together? Do you feel that there is a good amount of consensus, do you feel the need to call everybody together, are you feeling a good momentum growing?

I think we have a great momentum right now. All of the leg work that we’ve done in collaborations is a good indicator of that positive momentum, it doesn’t mean that all issues have been resolved to this point by any means, that is not the case. This is only because of the large quantity of issues that face Indian country.

And part of the underlying reason why we haven’t been as progressive as we might have been is that a lot of times the knowledge that is required is not yet developed. For example, the federal budgeting process is pretty complicated. Unless you get your feet wet and get into the system and learn that and understand the mechanics behind what drives the federal budgeting process, a lot of the solutions that we propose are blind solutions. Until we got involved in this national budget advisory council where a number of very good tribal leaders are members of this council, until we got our feet really wet and got our hands dirty, about the budgeting, did we clearly understand how much of a dilemma we faced. And we’ve been partly complaining to the wrong people, and bringing the issues to the wrong level, if you will. The target ought to be the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and the President.

All of these other times, we’ve been battling at the lower levels, and by virtue of that fact, we haven’t been as successful. And working together now with the tribes throughout the country has been a big plus.

Q: This sounds like a positive trend in political development.

Yes. One thing I need to tell you about, though, is that there may be too many national meetings. Where the same tribal leaders that need to be in one meeting are tied down because they attending another meeting that was scheduled at the same time. There is not a whole lot of concerted effort to get the schedules together so that they follow one another. Meetings are scheduled at the same time during the same week in completely different parts of the country.

We still need to do a lot of work on our time management system. With technology readily available, I think we can do that. We all need to be involved finding the right solution for that.

How much do we know about the systems that are available? And its not just in Indian country. This is what the world uses, so why shouldn’t it work for us? We just tweak the systems to fit our needs.

The tests still remain, but I feel very, very positive about Indian country working together. And it’s going to continue. We’ve not reached the ultimate solution, but we’re working towards that end. I trust that within this next year, we’ll get even farther down the road.

Q: Going back to what you said about working directly with this administration, can you fill in what is going on behind the scenes in the negotiations or communications with the offices at the White House and the OMB?

The important piece about OMB is that Indian country has never met directly met with OMB until last December. It was the first time we as a national budget advisory council met with OMB. That began a collaboration. OMB listens a lot, I found out, to the departments (Interior, etc.). They indicated that there is not a lot of down-to-earth advocacy (on our behalf) from the other departments. And it is their place to be doing that. But for whatever reason, it never comes across as such.

So the OMB meetings are really key, and we’ve had at least five meetings with the OMB staff, the main people who make decisions. We’ve also got to be sending our message, the same message, to each of the departments, such as the DOI. We have to be aligned with our messages – what we are proposing and what they are advocating on behalf of Indian country need to be the same message. So that when OMB meets with us, they hear the same story and the same truth, they hear the same needs and they see the same solutions that we all are talking about. We’re all on the same page. In the past, we haven’t been able to do that. I think that’s changed somewhat. Progress has been made.

The other thing to remember is that the budgeting cycles are like three overlapping cycles at any one time. There’s the implementation of last year’s budget, there’s the planning and implementation of this year’s budget, and then there’s the planning for next year and the year after that. Being able to juggle three phases going on at one time is an important piece, and that may not have been very clear to Indian country in the past.

Q: And how have you felt about the response from, for example. Reuben Barrales’ office at the White House, or the Department of OMB? How has the response been from that level of government?

In a sense, they are asking why didn’t we do this before? We can ask ourselves why, but part of the answer is the fact that we didn’t know the system. It’s just like not knowing what to do when a car breaks down. If you knew how that car operated you might be able to do something about it. So that analogy falls into play here, but the response has been really, really extraordinary from OMB, from the Budget Council, from Congress, and a lot of staff at the White House. I have to commend them for being out front and meeting with us.

The one thing that I still want to see happen is for us to meet with President Bush, and we have not had that opportunity as the embassy of tribes, we have not been able to do that. That is going to be one of the initiatives that we push forward at NCAI – the officers, myself, the tribal leaders and the tribes that make up NCAI. We really need to push for this.

Q: There have been some tough issues on Capitol Hill lately. What is the mood, the tone of the meetings with members of Congress lately?

We need to get away from the attitude that we are fighting Congress. Everywhere I’ve been and I’ve talked about Congress, I’ve never said that we’re “fighting” with Congress. What I said is that we’re “working” with Congress to find the solutions. Just from a human philosophical approach, that sends the more positive note to the parties involved. And I think that means a whole lot to all of us so we want to continue to push those efforts.

Besides Congress, we’ve initiated meetings with a number of other federal agencies that haven’t worked with Indian country, per se. One prime example, just the latest one of consultation – and you know how I feel about consultation – is the DOJ (Department of Justice). As long as its been involved in working with Indian country, which is years and years, the very first consultation was held just last week. This was the one in Minneapolis regarding the Violence Against Women Act. This in itself is a prime indicator that our efforts are having some impact. But, we must continue to be vigilant in working with the issues that face us.

As we speak, there is a lot of legislation coming on-line that we knew nothing or little about. One of them is HR 4, having to do with the benefits for employees of tribes. The other is HR 16, that is clarifying labor union issues in Indian country. Under the National Labor Relations Act, we are protected from labor unions setting up shop in Indian country. The latest interpretation was that tribes were exempt from that protection, and so HR 16 moved to clarify that tribes share the same protection as other government agencies.

We still see legislation being introduced that disadvantages Indian country. The latest one that I heard about has to do with the 8A status, that would give tribes no special attention or opportunities when it comes to business or business development. That in itself could be detrimental. What we’ve been pushing for all along is for tribes to do economic development and sustain their own economies by doing economic development, business enterprises and what not.

Q: What is the proposal on the table regarding 8A status for tribes?

What it says is that the tribes with 8A status should not receive any special consideration for governmental jobs or for projects. If it gets by, it wipes out our efforts having to do with economic development and the SBA 8A status that a lot of tribes have been moving toward. It would wipe away a lot of opportunity, a lot of momentum.

Q: There are a lot of tribes that have economic development and industry in place that are dependent on that 8A status.

That’s right. It’s being talked about, and chances are it could be introduced. The best effort would be to cut it off at the knees before it makes it to any other level.

Economic development, in my eyes, goes hand in hand with tribal sovereignty. If we’re talking about self determination and self reliance as tribes, then we have to have the revenue stream and the resource base by which we can say, “I’m no longer dependent upon the federal government.” If you relate that to reality, though, you see that the tribes are at different levels of economic development. Those tribes that have been very successful in their efforts, and there are those tribes that are still in need of help and development, a lot of it by no fault of their own: because of the systems, the funding, the locations, the regions why they have not reached that level.

Q: What is your vision for the future of tribes, of Indian country as a whole?

My vision is that the day will come that we will no longer be dependent on the federal government. We will stand on our own means. That is true sovereignty, that is true self governance, self reliability, self sustainability, and that’s what we all ought to be pushing toward…and this includes every tribe in this country, even those that are not recognized, because the lack of recognition was through no fault of their own. We can help our brothers and sister tribes, and I think that is happening more so than it was before. That is our own solution, if you will, absent of any other help from the feds or from the state. If we can accomplish that, then more power to us.

Q: We went to see the Dalai lama with Arvol Looking Horse last week, and Arvol mentioned that individual sovereignty is important to tribal sovereignty. That if you have the ability to be individually sovereign, then you can lead, have the full understanding of what sovereignty is. You can see this with Indian leaders from around the country, like yourself and Tex Hall. Some of the best tribal leaders are those that understand the meaning of personal self-sufficiency.

That is right.

[Sidebar]

If we’re talking about self determination and self reliance as tribes, then we have to have the revenue stream and the resource base by which we can say, “I’m no longer dependent upon the federal government.”

Arvol Looking Horse honored with presentation for the Dalai Lama

King: Arvol, you just drove all night to get here, you made a great effort to get here and arrived just in time. Why did you think it was important to be a part of this presentation?

Looking Horse: I wanted to take a message to the world… that there is so much problems, and that this place is the Dalai Lama, and this place, the temple that we came to, was made for peace. People traveled from all over the world, all over, to be here today. They want to see something, to hear something to help them pray for peace, or to help them understand what is going on in the world. And, as spiritual leaders, we need to be heard and that’s why I traveled all night over a long distance to be here.

We have our prophecy with our sacred bundle. Yet, a lot of people, our own people, do not understand why we do the work that we do, promoting peace, global healing.

How I feel as a spiritual leader of the Bigfoot Ride is that we’ve come a long ways. I myself bring prayers. One of my great, great grandfathers was Bigfoot. I never knew that until I came on the Bigfoot Ride. He died for the white flag of truce at Wounded Knee in 1890, when Bigfoot was massacred. He died for peace.

I know that I have to carry on his work. Riding in the deep snow and cold weather is the sacrifice that we’ve made.

Also, being the Keeper of the sacred chanunpa, the sacred pipe.

The story that was told among our people is that a spirit woman brought this spirit bundle, she brought this chanunpa when the people were having a hard time, and she said that “I shall return again when the people are having a hard time.”

In 1994, the first white buffalo calf was born in Janesville, Wisconsin.

King: The buffalo calf that was born white and changed colors?

Looking Horse: “Miracle” was supposed to change color. When the spirit woman brought the sacred chanunpa… when she left the chanunpa, and then she went back towards the West, she stopped four times. She changed colors…black, red, yellow, and white. And we use these sacred colors to the grandfathers to the four directions in our ceremonies from that time to today. And when Miracle was born, she was supposed to change four colors. She was born white, and she became black and then red. She died when she was in the third stage, yellow. Since then, every year a white buffalo calf was born. This year, at the same farm in Janesville, Wisconsin, another white buffalo calf was born August 25.

These white animals, the white buffalo calves, the story of the sacred chanunpa, and all these white animals being born, showing their sacred colors – they are all connected. We’re supposed to be the voice for them, our relatives. And that’s why we came here to be the voice for the relatives. And, this is what people are looking for with the Dalai Lama, to come to pray and speak with him. Leaders like that, they have the heart for the people, for peace, and for understanding throughout the world. So, there are many reasons why we came here.

King: Can you explain what is the connection for Native person on the rez care to the Dalai Lama? What is it about this man that makes him worthy to you to travel all this way to stand there to support him?

Looking Horse: He was exiled from him country of Tibet. He can’t go home. (The Tibetan traditional culture, including practice of the spiritual ways of the Buddhist people there, have been outlawed by the Chinese government). He has in his country the land, the sacred sites, the places that his ancestors they came from. He can’t go home to his spiritual homeland. We have a hard time here on our homeland, we were being imprisoned, and now we’re still having a hard time as a nation. So, he understands about the ways of our First Nations people, how we were, how we lived. And I, too, understand people like him that are spiritual and having a hard time because of what has happened. It has been difficult in the last years, but I also know that we have the keys to the new millennium. That’s why were are trying to gather, to bring our people together to unite spiritually, and globally.

King: What was it like to meet him, what was it like when you were talking to him?

Looking Horse: It was a great honor. If I didn’t have that coming here as a spiritual leader, I would be star struck, too. But I know where his heart is, and I met him twice before, so I knew that we had a very strong connection, where we come from and where we’re going.

King: You are always out there telling people, “Pray for peace,” and the Dalai lama is telling people to pray for peace. He also said today that “Praying for peace is important, but the action is important, the karma is in the action.” I really appreciated what he said, it was so simple and so powerful, “Positive action leads to positive consequence, and negative action leads to negative consequence.”

If you were to tell people one thing that they can do to embody the prayer for peace that you are both promoting, what would you tell them? What would you like people to do in their own lives to actively be about peace in their families, in their communities?

Looking Horse: Right now, our families and brothers and sisters are fighting and it seems like we can’t unite. And I would say that out of respect for our future generations I would tell people to work for peace. People need to see for themselves from their homeland what is happening throughout the world because all of our spiritual ways have brought us through hard times. We’ve survived, and that’s the only way we will survive now because of the stage that we are in. We are at war and there are a lot of sicknesses. So, we just have no choice but to work for this. I know it is a very hard journey, we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we will make it.

King: You sound really hopeful even though you are saying it is hard and there are a lot of people fighting and you need to pray for peace. It is good to know that people are getting together and praying together and working on this together because it sounds like there is hope.

Looking Horse: I am the 19th Keeper of our sacred bundle, and when I was born, our ways were outlawed. When we talk about freedom and human rights, I feel like we’ve come a long way to be recognized in the world today. So, I’m very thankful, I wish our grandparents would see this day.

King: I think a lot of people need to hear this, especially the young people, because times can seem pretty tough.

Looking Horse: It seems like it’s pretty tough when we’re burying our young people from suicide. But it’s part of our traditions in our songs and prayers to take care and to honor, to have a heart for the people. That’s basically part of our ways, to take this to our heart and stand up and promote peace and harmony.

King: And that brings us back to this day and the experience of being with the Dalai Lama and the other leaders there who were promoting peace. I can see why the Dalai Lama is in brotherhood with you, because the message that he was giving today was very similar to yours, and in many ways, it is the same message.

Looking Horse: The message that he gave and the message from our prophecies is the same. And, it is the reason that I came here today. It feels good, we feel good to be connected with a lot of people, all with a heart for the people, praying in the same way. And it was an honor to be with all of the important people who were here, who brought their own message of peace, like Queen Noor of Jordan (a Muslim), and all of the important leaders who traveled to be here on this day.

King: Thank you. It was an amazing day.

[Sidebar]

Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, was honored recently by being asked to make a presentation for the Dalai Lama during his visit to Colorado. On the bright and cold Sunday morning of September 17, Looking Horse made a presentation to a crowd of 2500 people at the newly completed buddhist shrine, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, near Red Feather Lakes. Looking Horse’s presence at this event was due to his on going work to promote peace, both at home in Indian country and across the globe. While known for leading the annual Bigfoot Ride to commemorate the massacre at Wounded Knee, and his creation of World Peace and Prayer Day, Looking Horse also carries his message “to pray for peace” to countless gatherings, large and small, during the year.

We were invited to join Arvol on his trek to participate in this historic meeting, and sat down after the speeches and songs to visit about the day and the spiritual connections to the Dalai Lama.

[Sidebar]

Dramatically transforming the landscape of Shambhala Mountain Center, The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is an expression of the aspiration for peace, harmony and equanimity for all beings. Rising 108 feet from its foundation, construction of The Great Stupa was initiated in 1988 and the monument was consecrated in August 2001.

[Sidebar]

“it’s part of our traditions in our songs and prayers to take care and to honor, to have a heart for the people”

Exclusive Native Voice Interview with SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL Director Geoffrey Gilmore

The Native Voice granted exclusive interview with Sundance Film Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore to talk about the present realities and future possibilities for Native cinema and Sundance’s “Native Forum”

Geoffrey Gilmore is currently the Director of the Sundance Film Festival, held each January in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah. Known as being the godfather of independent film, Sundance is also home to a unique project called “The Native Forum.” This forum seeks to support Native Filmmakers and showcase their work, and it is a favored part of the festival by Gilmore, who is thoughtful in his analysis of the current state of Native media. He engages in passionate conversation about the Sundance Festival, the Sundance Institute, and the current and future place of The Native Forum at Sundance and in the larger world of major media.

Frank J. King, III: When did you get involved with Native American filmmaking?

Geoffrey Gilmore: I was trying to do Native programming years ago while I was in college at UCLA. It was one of the first very visible programs. So I’ve had a long term interest in trying to see storytelling develop, particularly out of this community. It’s been a struggle.

Lise Balk King: Yes, it has. There are things that are shifting now in the attitudes of the tribes toward media development, out of an understanding of the need. It’s a reactionary thing, it’s coming out of the Abramoff scandal, it’s coming out of the movement to “Get Out The Native Vote.” It’s also about Native media gaining legitimacy and respect, which is necessary.

FJK: The whole tribal thing is like they are like, ten years behind. Which means that there is nobody to teach. Film especially. A lot of the tribes don’t trust the media to begin with, so we have to change that stereotype. To show what media can do for them, what films can do.

GG: I’ve had a lot of experience with different Native filmmakers and different people who are friends of mine over the years. One of the things that I experienced, particularly with the people who are political, was the amount of backstabbing that was going on inside the community. Where you’d have a guy who became a visible force immediately be almost countered by somebody who was trying to not quite tear him down, but not quite allow that whole thing to develop. It was almost these competing kind of energies going on, and that was upsetting to me at different points in time.

LBK: It’s the phenomena we call “fighting over scraps.” It’s what happens when you get people in an isolated community that is unnatural to them, and strange dynamics go on they are starving all of the time for attention, positive feedback, self esteem – all of the things that feed the heart and soul and mind – when something comes in, it becomes a free for all. It becomes very grabby and it’s not necessarily a supportive community.

FJK: There is a way to fix that. The tribes need to get involved.

LBK: There have to be enough resources available so that the bickering stops and everybody just gets back to work.

GG: I completely agree with that. One of the things that bothers me is that I think we do things, but I don’t think that we do enough. I always feel that there is much more that we could be doing. You are sometimes caught between these kinds of pulling agendas.

When I ran the Native program section of the Sundance Festival up until a couple of years ago, my concept of that was basically that it would allow us every year to have this section of Native cinema regardless of whether it was competing with other work…in terms of making it into the competitions. And I’m not suggesting that the work wasn’t good enough…but some of it wasn’t. Some of it was and some of it wasn’t. But you’d still have work there from year to year.

After doing that for a number of years, we made the decision a couple of years ago that, “Okay let’s see if something can just stand on its own. Let’s not put it into a so-called focus section, but let’s look at a way of seeing if it can just simply be integrated into the festival.” And it worked, a little bit. But this year I don’t think it worked at all.

This year, in particular, I feel like we really didn’t have a sufficient program. And so that bothers me. It bothers me because I feel like we must not be doing a good job here. I never believe that you can just simply say that “There’s no work out there.” You know, there’s always work out there. But if you’re always struggling to find work and trying to figure out what fits and how to push things in…? Sometimes it’s a really competitive festival. It’s a question from year-to-year of trying to help build toward that critical mass (of a body of quality work).

LBK: What would you like to see?. If the Sundance team – you , the programmers, Bob Redford – if you could paint this any way you wanted it, what would you envision the Native Forum to be and to do?

GG: I think the Native Forum is different things. What Bird Runningwater is doing this year is work that clearly has to do with getting people together, getting people to talk. I think that one of the problems has been that sense that the community is not integrated into the general Independent Film Community. You have the Independent Community and you have a whole lot of different people in that community that you need relationships with because this ia a relationships business. And, it’s always been a relationships business. And if you are not connected with it, you end up having to work just isolated and on your own all of the time.

Part of what I would hope is our agenda on an annual basis is to achieve some of that integration. That’s one of the reasons that we stopped the focus on a specialized programming section. It was the idea that, “No, it’s time to integrate, it’s time to make it part of the bigger picture.” And, again, I have faith that that it is going to work on different levels. Whether it’s Chris Eyre or Sherman Alexie, or different filmmakers, as in when Heather (Rae) was in competition last year with her film on John Trudell (Heather Rae, Cherokee, served as programmer of the Native Forum at Sundance, 1995 – 2001). There’s a whole range of different things you can do. But it’s still that you get bothered when you feel that any given year you feel that there is not enough of a representation. And I look at a lot of work.

FJK: What do you think is lacking in the Native community that is contributing to this void of good projects?

GG: I always feel that one of the major issues in any kind of independent production is a lack of skilled producers. The storytellers are there. The acting talent is there. The directing talent oftentimes is there, for different reasons. But the producers, the people that get the work onto the screen, you can’t find them. And that’s a talent that you need to develop with people. It’s true in every community, and it’s true generally across the board in the independent arena.

When Bird has brought different parties to our Producers Conference over the years, I have felt that was important, again as a way of making connections. You’ve got to be able to get in doors. You’ve got to be able to reach out and get financed or have ideas of where you can go for that. And you don’t want to be simply marginalized in the old, “Well lets go talk to the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting), lets talk to Frank Blythe (Director, Native American Public Telecommunications) and that’s it and that’s the only person you get to talk to. It’s almost like that’s a purposeful marginalization. It’s almost like that’s the way they dealt with it. And for me that wasn’t sufficient, there are other things to do.

LBK: And the schools aren’t teaching it either, for the most part. Not the creative or technical media training, nor media literacy. The creation of media is still seen as a far away dream for most people living in isolated, economically dry communities.

GG: What about the tribes? Is the explosion of gaming revenues going to help with the film industries?

LBK: There is there mentality with some Native filmmakers when they go to these casino tribes for money that they say – I’m Native, I should get money from you to make my film. Again, this goes back to the need for skilled producers… you have to ask, “Where is your business plan, where is your full script, where is your resume that shows that you actually have what it takes to can take this thing to completion, or who are the people you have lined up to fill in and help you with the parts that you need?

GG: There is some feeling I have about the need to develop that infrastructure, that kind of development of smart people who are able to make the connections, with the storytellers.

I’m happy to say this for public consumption – there are a lot of filmmakers who are really flaky, that is who they are. That’s almost their nature. You need other people that are able to understand markets, distribution outlets, companies and business plans. These are real things. You can’t just always argue, “Oh, well, none of that’s important because this is just a work of passion.” No. It’s very significant. It’s as significant as anything else. You’ve got to be able to get into that world. Otherwise this whole thing becomes almost philanthropic. It’s almost like it’s some marginality thing.

Its again about critical mass. I look at acting talent, and it’s there…good looking acting talent that could be cast in a lot of different places. And you look at directors, it’s there. What do you always need? The same thing everybody else needs. Developed scripts (good scripts always need development), and good production partners or producers that are able to put things together.

LBK: Is it possible to bring together those non-Indian professional film, people who can facilitate the creation of Native projects – not as the usual “mentors,” but as partners?

GG: We’ve certainly talked about it. And maybe it’s time that we figure out ways in which that can be done.

LBK: This is a field that takes a lot of resources, projects take a lot of money to produce. The confidence in the filmmaker’s ability to produce has to be there for them to get funded. It’s like any other business where you are trying to find funding sources, investors, and put a project together.

GG: I don’t want to give money to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing on any level. I just don’t. You don’t want to watch money burn up, you want it to have an impact. So when neophytes come into the office, you try to figure out, “Do they really have a sense of how to make this work, or is there somebody that they are relying on who can do this?” And, again, usually the excuses and also the reality is that you want someone there who is able to deliver the project.

What bothers me about what little I know about Native production – and I probably know a lot more than a lot of people, but I certainly don’t know enough – is that there were power players that seemed to be comfortable in the niche that they were in, and things just stayed that way. Nothing moved to the next step. What Sundance is good at, and I give my colleagues credit for this, is the development of individual artists. That is what they are best at, developing Chris (Eyre) and developing Sherman (Alexie), and having different artists come into the program that Bird is working with .

What Sundance has not been got at is as an organizing force within the breadth of all of the communities. I think Heather (Rae) did that in different ways on more of a sporadic basis than what we are doing here. But Bird is very much is trying to do different efforts, particularly with other (indigenous) nations and that works. But that is a complicated thing, because some could argue that this is a diversion of resources and attention.

Being self-critical, I wish I could see more results. Results for me are being able to point to “that film, that film, and that film” in the market place, this connection, that actor moving to there, that crossover going on, this producer saying they want to see Native material. Well then, let’s find the Native screenwriters who can just give the material to the established producers. Because I don’t want to talk bull, I’ve been doing this for too many years. I don’t want to talk about starting from scratch every single time. I want to feel like, “Okay, good. We’ve got things going on.”

Bird is really good at helping develop individual artists, at doing outreach to a number of different people. There’s more still to do that I feel like isn’t being done. Maybe it’s not our province, maybe it is. I’m also nervous about our role in all of this. I don’t want to be the “big Sundance” sweeping in to kind of give all of the answers here. We don’t have all of the answers. We have some of the answers. But we don’t have all of the answers.

LBK: We’ve done a lot to promote the Sundance Film Festival’s Native Forum. We give it coverage every year to say, “We think this is an important thing.” People are saying that we focus a lot on arts and entertainment. We focus on where we think the needs are. And we feel that there are critical needs in media and communications. And the reason that we have done the Sundance promotion is because we sense the possibilities. It’s not because we think it is one hundred perfect there…but imagine the possibilities. This is a huge opportunity for Native America. You guys are a big brand name. Everybody knows who Robert Redford is. Everybody knows who Sundance is. You guys are the Nike of the film world. So, there’s a certain amount of cache and respect that comes along with that.

The Sundance Native Forum can a motivator for people who are feeling trapped in their community, trapped by the limitations of resources and access to education, and having a vision of creating something, and going, “How the hell do I get from here to there?”

Sundance needs to decide if that’s even your agenda, if you want to go in and help to map out that road. If you do, that’s an amazing thing. If you don’t, that’s okay because maybe it’s not your job to fill in those blanks.

GG: I think the agenda has always been that we don’t see ourselves as the people who should be in that role of mapping out that big picture. We see ourselves as being in the role of helping to develop artists. I’ve always thought that what the festival does that is interesting is that it opens up that sense of the possible, that what you do is create opportunity and inspire.

If you’ve never seen a Native work before, or if you have the image of Native work being “one kind of a thing,” then you start to see, “Wait a second, these are really different kinds of movies, these are really different kinds of storytellers, these are really different ideas.” You don’t “niche” it all. It’s not all one box, Native storytelling doesn’t all come out of one box. Well, of coarse it doesn’t. So, you start to see a range of different things. And the inspirational qualities for me are the idea that the storytellers start to see that sense of the possible of, “Oh, that’s something I can do.”

Again, do I feel that our agenda is clear? You guys are probably right. I don’t think that our agenda is clear. And I feel that maybe that s something that we have to reexamine and think about again.

LBK: Sundance is inspiring because you can find so much here that is connected to who you are and what you do, even if it is not directly about you. The stories, the films are about crossing over assumed boundaries, about making connections that are more human and universal. On that end, I can see how Bird feels compelled to include other indigenous people in the Native Forum category.

“Crossing Arizona,” the film about border crossing issues, premiered here, and it just happens to be about an issue that is directly effecting the Tohono O’odham Nation. It was not part of the Native Forum because it is not-Native made. One of the main people in the film is a tribal member. This film was directly relevant to Native America.

GG:What would you like to see happen?

FJK: We have to give our young people a venue to learn how to use media to be storytellers, to learn how to shoot film, to bring their creative ideas to fruition.

I’ve had Native leaders ask me, “What does something like this cost?” And I answer, “Whatever the tribes are willing to put into it.”

Because we are not just investing in a film, we are investing in a cultural history. We are investing in the voices of our nations. We are investing in the preservation of our people. And we appreciate that Sundance is willing to be a part of this investment.

GG: I would love to strategize about how to get to that next move, about how to see where that next stage takes us.

…to be continued…

http://www.sundance.org

[Sidebar]

Sundance Film Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore (L) and Frank J. King, III, Publisher of The Native Voice (R) meet at the Festival in Park City, Utah, January 25, 2006 to discuss the Native Forum and the future of Native media.